Indonesia will be relocating its capital city from Jakarta to East Kalimantan, and president Joko Widodo revealed recently that the city will only use autonomous and electric vehicles for mass transportation, The Jakarta Post reported. East Kalimantan is a province on the island of Borneo, one which it shares with Malaysia and Brunei.

The president aims to turn the new capital into the first city in the world to use EVs and self-driving cars. “Mass transportation will be autonomous there. Private cars will also be autonomous or electric,” Jokowi said recently at the Indonesian Young Entrepreneurs Association. “We can be the first capital city with mass and private transportation using autonomous and electric vehicles. We will build it that way so everything can be efficient and cheap,” he added.

The plan aligns with the Indonesian government’s vision of promoting electric cars, with a greater goal of reducing the country’s carbon emissions (its greenhouse gas emissions ranks among the highest in the world) while promoting domestic battery production. Indonesia is rich in cobalt and manganese, the two main components for making EV batteries.

Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister, Luhut Pandjaitan said: “Non-electric vehicles cannot enter the new capital city. They must park and the passengers enter the city using public transportation. There will be parking lots for non-EVs.” The Indonesian government added that the public transport sector will use autonomous systems such as autonomous bus rapid transit and an autonomous railway.

To further drive EV uptake, Luhut said there will be lithium battery-production facilities in the new capital city to ensure the availability of power for the EVs. “We will produce lithium batteries in the region with hydropower energy. At the moment, Andrew Forrest (mining tycoon) from Australia is there to conduct [feasibility] studies, and also to look at hydro-green energy that will be produced after lithium batteries.”

Apparently, the new capital will be developed using transit-oriented development (TOD) methods, which means every business and entertainment centre will be accessible within walking distance. Unlike Jakarta, the city will be compact, connected, and developed into clusters. This way, individuals can get to different destinations in just 10 minutes instead of travelling two hours by car to work.

The government aims to have 80% of the people’s transportation needs to be served by public transportation, walking or cycling. This may prove to be a challenge considering the temperate, tropical conditions, but the land which the new city will sit on is currently a forested area. The new city will be developed on 256,000 hectares, but buildings and infrastructure will only take a fifth at 56,000 hectares. The rest are green areas.

Now, the project is expected to cost 466 trillion rupiah (RM138.2 billion). The construction of government buildings and facilities will be fully funded by the state budget, while other development projects are expected to be funded by private sector funds and investments. The capital city relocation will take place by the end of Jokowi’s second term in 2024.

What’s more, road access to and from the new city will be built this year, and the Indonesian government is looking for several foreign partners to help develop the green capital city. Discussions with SoftBank Group founder and CEO Masayoshi Son, SoftBank-backed ride-hailing Grab CEO Anthony Tan are ongoing; Jokowi had also offered the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, a position on the steering committee of the new capital city project.

The relocation project is undoubtedly ambitious. With this, the government wants to depict Indonesia as a forward-thinking and futuristic civilisation, but that doesn’t mean it’s free from controversies.

One of the biggest risks in building a new capital in Borneo, according to Business Insider Malaysia, is that the planned deforestation could further raise Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Borneo’s forests consist largely of peatland, a type of wetland that holds about 12 times more carbon than other tropical rainforests. Just one hectare of peatland can release around 6,000 metric tonnes of CO2 when cleared.

And then there’s the residents. The clustered “compact city” may take up less land mass, but the relocation could see more than 1.5 million new residents, mostly government employees and their families, uproot from Jakarta, according to Indonesia’s planning minister. To accommodate these residents, Indonesia plans to develop hundreds of thousands of acres of land.

However, the minister has promised not to clear any protected forests, but the peatlands will have to be drained to support the construction buildings and highways, which could make the turf drier and more vulnerable to fires. Many parts of Borneo’s peatland forest have been cleared via burning for palm oil plantations, which released more than 140 million metric tonnes of CO2. That’s about the same as the annual emissions of 28 million cars.